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Progressives plan resurgence with launch of ‘Vision SF’

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On Guard column header Joe

His book, “Season of the Witch,” chronicled San Francisco’s radicals of past generations. Now, David Talbot has joined the rabble rousers on the front line.

Saturday marked the launch of Vision SF, a progressive group with an activist San Francisco pedigree — the brainchild of none other than Talbot himself.

“Vision SF is a citywide effort to take The City back from the hands of the few to the hands of the majority,” he told me outside the event.

It’ll be a three-pronged effort: To create a progressive political think tank to serve as a counterbalance to the oft­-moderate SPUR, to support local journalism that will more doggedly investigate City Hall corruption and to raise a new generation of progressive politicians.

Talbot helped jumpstart this new political group — now made up of a collective voice of many — to finally take action to stem the exodus of many long time and native San Franciscans.

Since it launched, the co-chairs have taken a leadership role. Co-chairs include former Supervisor Christina Olague, Chinatown Community Development Center founder Gordon Chin, former City Attorney Louise Renne, local activist Calvin Welch, and Julie Levak-Madding, who runs the popular Facebook group Vanishing SF.

They’re not alone. With hundreds in attendance at the Brava Theater in La Mission cheering at every suggestion to stem corruption in San Francisco, it’s safe to say many agreed with Talbot.

Tenants rights activist Sara Shortt told the crowd it was time to restore San Francisco to a time “when The City cared about its residents, when San Francisco values meant something.”

That was definitely met with cheers. But before you groan, let me tell you, as a frequent­flyer attendee of many progressive political rallies (do I get a merit badge in the mail?) I can say that though some of the “usual suspects” were there, many fresh faces shone in the audience as well.

Yes, there was former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, the Sierra Club’s John Rizzo, former Supervisor Christina Olague, AIDS rights activist Cleve Jones, a number of affordable­-housing developers, and tenants rights activists like Shortt.

But there were also new, younger folks, too. At one point, Olague asked the crowd to raise their hands if they were under 55­-years­-old, and more than half of the room’s hands shot up.

“I win the bet,” she said.

And though many politically progressive issues — minimum wage, for instance — have entered the mainstream, many issues have not. Progressive approaches to the homeless, affordable housing and other reforms are oft­en blocked by monied interests at City Hall, Talbot said.

And, yes, that means they’re stymied by Mayor Ed Lee’s moderate camp, too.

City Hall, Talbot said, is “more concerned with tax giveaways for the corporate tech sector than taking care of the needs of the people.”

Talbot has a complex relationship with tech. As the founder of news site Salon.com, he’s been immersed in (and profited from) tech at times. But as a journalist, he’s sick of the more than $10 million in in­-kind donations from corporate titans to Mayor Lee’s interests.

“They make a big show of that when they fund a new wing of a hospital,” he said, but “they’d rather give us their crumbs through charity than be taxed fairly.”

Vision SF is concentrating heavily on organizing in support of propositions I, F and J (the Mission Moratorium, increased housing regulations and supporting legacy businesses, respectively). But next year, they plan to recruit more tech workers into progressive causes, Talbot said.

“It’s not tech workers who are the problem, it’s tech billionaires who are the problem,” he said.

He wants to take the fight directly to the doorstep of technocrats like billionaire angel investor Ron Conway, who has poured thousands into local elections — often tipping the political scales using his wallet alone.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Talbot said. “Either we’re pushed out of The City, or we stand up and fight.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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